Overview and Climbing Information
Spar Mountain dominates the view looking south from the beautiful ghost town of Kirwin, WY. Rising up to over 12,000 feet behind Bald Mountain, this peak's tranquil, triangular shape as seen from Kirwin contrasts sharply with the steep and jagged rock faces of the other peaks surrounding the valley.
Up the Cascade Creek Valley
There are several ways to climb Spar Mountain from the Kirwin trailhead. The easiest (but longest) route involves hiking up the Cascade Creek Trail and climbing to the pass over Smuggler's Gulch. Start your hike at the west end of the Kirwin parking areas where the locked gate shuts off the road that becomes the East Fork Trail; cross over the Wood River (no more than a large creek at this point) on the wooden footbridge and head over to the town of Kirwin, where the remaining buildings from this century-old mining town are open to see and explore. Bring a flashlight if you want to see inside most of them, as a lot of the rooms are totally dark. Stay on the main road and bypass Kirwin on your left to start up onto the side of Bald Mountain. The road is wide enough for a fairly large truck, but it has been closed off for a number of years; there are several trees that have fallen across the road, but these are not hard to get over. There is also one point where a stream crosses the road, but it's not very wide unless there has been a lot of recent rain. The are several side roads that branch off the main one, but these are starting to be overgrown with young pine trees, so it's probably best to stay on the main road.
After about a mile of lengthy switchbacks and about 1,000 ft. of elevation gain, you will find yourself above the treeline. As you leave the trees, you will cross above a large mine in the hillside. The are numerous trails and roads up here, but look to stay right and pass below the two partially completed cabins soon after the mine. If you see these cabins on your right, you are too high and should head straight down to find a lower trail. The trail will take you down into a small gully before skirting around the bottom of the small area of trees on the side of Spar Mountain. You are now on the Cascade Creek Trail, and before long the trail crosses over the creek onto the side of Mount Sniffel. The size of the creek will vary depending on the season, but crossing it shouldn't be much of a problem, especially in late summer. This trail will follow the creek pretty closely for about a half of a mile before forking; the Cascade Creek Trail stays to the right and starts heading up around to the back of Mount Sniffel, while the Smuggler's Gulch Trail stays left and crosses back over the creek. Take the left fork and head towards the pass between Spar Mountain and the 12,156 foot peak listed on the maps as Cascade Benchmark. The trail heads up a series of switchbacks, gaining about 1,000 feet in just over a half mile of trail, reaching an elevation of 11,566 feet at the top of the pass.
Once you are on top of the pass, turn left and head up towards the summit plateau, which is a half mile away. The summit area is quite large, and the highest point will be off to the right side. The lower summit (12,048 feet) that is visible from Kirwin is on the far left of the plateau. From the summit, you will have fine views of the surrounding peaks, including Sniffel, Crosby, Brown, Standard Peak, the Washakie Needles, and the Wind River Range; Francs Peak is visible to the right of Brown Mountain to the north. The total distance for this hike is 4.0 miles one way, 3.5 of it on Class 1 trail, with a Class 2 ridge scramble on the final section to the summit.
You will have to drive to the Kirwin trailhead. 4WD is recommended, but high clearance and AWD will suffice under most warm-weather conditions. Kirwin was a mining boomtown many years ago, and several structures still remain in the area. The ruined townsite is a popular destination for locals who like to drive up for lunch and a tour, but few people outside the area know anything about Kirwin and the awesome trail system it accesses. Kirwin is also one of the most beautiful trailheads in the Rockies, with towering, brooding mountains all around it.
Kirwin Wolf Creek Mine
From Meeteetse, 32 miles south of Cody, turn west onto the signed road for Wyoming 290. In 6.4 miles, turn left onto Wood River Road. At 11.6 miles, the pavement ends. The national forest boundary is at 21.7 miles. Pass Wood River Campground at 22.4 miles and Brown Mountain Campground at 24.8 miles. The road now gets a little rougher, but it is not real 4WD stuff. At 26.8 miles is the first of four stream crossings. This one is short and usually shallow. The second river crossing is at 27 miles. This one is wider and deeper. The third crossing, which is actually two crossings in quick succession, is at 29.3 miles. These are broad but shallow. The last two miles to the trailhead are rocky but not anything to get nervous about. There is one more stream crossing just before the trailhead, but it is a tributary stream and may even be dry. The trailhead is at 33.1 miles. It took me 75 minutes to make the drive.
Directions above used with permission from Bob Sihler's Kirwin page.
There are two roads that lead through the longest river crossing. When heading to Kirwin it is hard to find the left fork, so you shouldn't have a problem staying right; in the summer of 2008 there were pink ribbons tied to stakes and trees marking the route through the water. On the way back out, stay to the left in the trees when you reach the fork unless you want to spend a lot of time driving in the water and trying to figure out where the road goes.
Pay close attention to recent weather before going to Kirwin, as rain and spring runoff can make the crossings very interesting. My wife and her parents were up there in June 2005 in a Jeep Cherokee that left the ground and floated for a few moments during an afternoon crossing in the middle of spring runoff!
There are no permits required to hike in this area; the Meeteetse Ranger District can be reached at 307-868-2379 for any questions on access.
There are grizzlies in this area, so beware! My wife and I saw dozens of tracks and claw marks eleven feet up on tree trunks during our two days of hiking around Kirwin. Carry bear spray at all times and know how to use it; you should practice getting ready to spray quickly, as a bear charge can happen lightning fast. Make as much noise as possible, especially when you're on a trail in the trees.
Tent camping is not allowed in Kirwin. For day hikes in this area for people like me who are not really into tent camping in grizzly country, sleeping in your car at the Kirwin trailhead is a good option. The nearest campgrounds (Wood River and Brown Mountain) are quite a ways down the road, which I think would be a pretty wild drive in the dark if you're trying for an early start to your hike. The restroom at Kirwin is always open (at least in the summer), but you'll have to bring in your own water or filter some from the river. There is a visitor's sign-in at the information center next to the restroom. As Bob mentioned in his directions above, this is not a well-known place; we saw a total of two hikers on the first day and one carload of people on the second. If you like solitude and wild country, this is a great place.